Robert Pope, Boston, Massachusetts. A mahogany cased tall clock with an automated rocking ship dial. AAA7

This is a rare and important mahogany case tall clock is equipped with a rocking ship automated brass dial made in Boston, Massachusetts, by Robert Pope.

This rare clock features a case form that is familiar to early Boston tall case design. The case is constructed in mahogany and retains an older refinish that has mellowed into a subtle warm nut-brown color. The base sits flat on the floor on a large single-step molding. The base is somewhat compressed and transitions quickly to the waist section, which is comparatively long. The waist door is tombstone-shaped and fills the middle section of the case. This door is trimmed with an applied molding. Through this door, one can access the two drive weights and brass-faced pendulum bob. The front corners of the case feature a simple canted feature that runs most of the length of the waist door. This softens the edges of the case. The bonnet or hood features a false pagoda or bell top design. This pagoda form would have been the latest London fashion for the period in which this case was made. This decorative element features a blind fretwork pattern in its center. The top of the pagoda is trimmed with an applied molding. Blocked ends out on the corners form plinths, and each supports a single brass finial. This decorative element is positioned above a break arch molding that is visually supported by smoothly turned wooden bonnet columns. These terminate in brass Doric-style brass capitals. Large tombstone-shaped sidelights are positioned on the sides of the hood. The arched-formed bonnet door is fitted with glass and opens to access the dial.

This composite brass dial is wonderfully detailed. It measures 12-inches across and is composed of a brass sheet that is decorated with applied brass decorations and skillfully executed engravings. It also features a very desirable automated rocking ship display in the arch. The fully rigged painted tin ship is depicted sailing across the water. This ship moves or gently rocks from side to side with the pendulum’s motion. The painted scene is quite interesting. It includes a large tower fortification on the right built high on top of a rocky point. The two applied brass spandrels that frame this three-dimensional display include a peacock in the design. These spandrels are an uncommon form. The four cast brass spandrels positioned around the time ring are considered the string of pearls version. These were cast in the 1760s through 1785. They frame the time ring, which is applied to the dial sheet. It is formatted with Arabic-style five-minute makers. The closed minute ring separates them from the Large Roman-style hour numerals. Inside the time ring are the subsidiary seconds and calendar displays. All of the time presentations are finished in a silver wash. The Clockmaker’s name and working location are engraved on the center of the dial. This reads, “Robt. Pope – BOSTON.” The center section is also decorated with a number of rococo-style engravings. Steel hands that are traditionally shaped display the time.

The two-train movement is brass, eight-day duration, and is of good quality. Four turned pillars or posts support the two large brass rectangular-shaped solid plates. They support the hardened steel shafts, the polished steel pinions, and the brass gearing. The winding drums are grooved to accept the weight cord in an orderly fashion. The escapement is designed as a recoil format. The movement is weight-driven and designed to run for eight days on a full wind. It is a two-train or a time and strike design having a count-wheel striking system. As a result, it will strike each hour on the hour. This is done on a cast iron bell which is mounted above the movement.

This clock was made circa 1785 and stands approximately 91 inches tall or 7 feet 7 inches tall to the top of the pagoda. The hood is 21 inches wide and 10 inches deep.


About Robert Pope Boston, Massachusetts.

Robert Pope was born September 3, 1754, in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Robert Pope (1717-1776), a blacksmith and scythe maker, and Phoebe (Brown) Pope (1716- ). It is logical to assume that he apprenticed under his older brother Joseph Pope (1748-1826). Joseph was six years older than Robert and was a very talented craftsman. In 1775, Robert married Susannah Holland. This union did not last very long since, in 1778, Robert married for a second time to Mary Polly Stoneman. During the American Revolution, Robert served as a fencing master. Robert was at work in Boston working a clockmaker in 1780. In 1785, he was employed to take care of Boston’s town clocks. He advertised in Massachusetts Centinel that his shop was located on Orange Street in Boston’s South End. A second advertisement placed on Saturday, April 29, 1786, said that he “makes Chime and plain clocks, Timepieces, etc. of various constructions, warranted to be equal to any and far superior to many imported from Europe. Table clocks either chime or plain. Clock and Watch springs warranted as above…” In the same year, he offered to make “barrel organs, containing any (moderate) number of keys and stops, and new barrels made to second hand organs, on which he will put any number and kind of tunes, that best suit his employers.” It is interesting to note that this is currently the earliest mention of domestic barrel organ manufacture known. A barrel organ is a small organ typically having five or six ranks of pipes. Each barrel is set with projecting pins or staples. The barrel is rotated, and the pins raise the levers that open the air passageways into the pipes. This creates the notes. In 1786, a large fire raged through Boston’s South End. More than 60 houses were lost, including his brother Joesph’s house. Soon after, the two brothers advertised a partnership that was now located on Newbury Street. In 1788, Joseph traveled to Europe, and Robert formed a brief partnership with the clockmaker Stephen Cleverly. In 1787, Robert was the commissary for the government troops at Springfield during Shay’s Rebellion. In 1789, Robert was listed as the sole proprietor of a watchmaking shop located at 34 Newbury Street. Two years later, he advertised that he made fish hooks. Robert Died in 1793.

Very few clocks are known. One outstanding tall clock example that features an inlaid case made by Dorchester Cabinetmaker Stephen Badlam was sold in New York in 1982. A second example featuring a dial with automation is in a private collection.

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